Ego and Competition

When I was playing flute more, it was an important status symbol for me to have an orchestra position. Regardless of the other performing outlets in my life, being in an orchestra was what I wanted on my resume. I would get quite nervous for auditions, then once I was in a group, I would be quite nervous about playing perfectly so as to impress people, yet try to play with them at the same time. There were all those people to please, other egos to deal with, and a conductor to obey at all times. I did not enjoy the big orchestras, although smaller groups were sometimes fun. Looking back, I understand better why my relationship with orchestra playing was so tortured. I had to have some high-quality musical experiences in other settings, as well as on other instruments, to understand which were best for me.

Thinking about ego and how it gets in the way of musicmaking is fresh in my mind lately because I’ve been getting reacquainted with the flute in a pleasant way. It has rather organically crept back into my life both in teaching and performing due to casual conversations which stimulated some action. I am finding it necessary to be very vigilant to not let my ego run rampant with the need to impress, to receive validation as “the best”. I am trying to be very gentle and light-hearted and curious when I practice the flute, as I have learned to do with singing. If I feel for a minute that I am getting that old anxiety about competing, I have to stop, point my feet in another direction, and go.

On Facebook I recently followed a wall conversation by two voice teachers in my area, whom I know, in which they were talking about how their studios are full. One asked the other if she knew any teachers who are taking students, since her usual contacts also had full studios. The other did not answer on her wall, but she probably did privately. Mr. Ego woke up and jumped out of bed! Me, me, me! Tell the world about me, and post it on your wall! At least send me a private note! Are you at least giving inquirers my name? All the old feelings of wanting to be accepted and respected were right there in an instant. I snapped back to thinking about a Grand Poobah of teaching in this area whom I met several years ago, whose studio is always full (?), who said she was so glad to know about me, and never sent me a student.

Being a musician all these years has taught me a few things that I need to remember: I am not alone in my feelings. Many musicians, teachers, and “normal people” deal with competitive feelings in themselves and others on a daily basis. Becoming more of a teacher than a performer (which is a turnaround from my young flute days) is no guarantee that I will not face these issues in my own work. Some people will like me and tell me, some will not like me and tell me, some will like me and not tell me, and others will not like me and not tell me. Just the way I wrote that last sentence is revealing. By “me” I mean “me or my work”. Ha! There is a line about that in “Art isn’t easy” from “Sunday in the Park with George.” I forgot one other strong possibility: Some people simply don’t think about me. Imagine that! “I” am not a permanent and forceful presence in their lives! Oh the crestfallen pain!

Time for a hot shower, a nice lunch, and my work. These things are real. Mr. Ego is not real but does not know that he is not real. What a bother!

2 Replies to “Ego and Competition”

  1. Interesting post Brian! I remember, and not with a great deal of fondness, those competitive days of flute playing. When I turned to singing, I found a different kind of competitiveness, mostly turned inwards towards myself. What do I need to do today to be a better singer/teacher than I was yesterday. I suppose that is the reason I attend as many workshops, masterclasses, conventions and clinics as I can.

    Just tonight I felt validated by a student who said that he had made more progress in dealing with some technical issues from one short lesson last week than an entire years work at university.

    Making connections with school music teachers is a great way to fill your studio. Offer to do workshops with their singers and you will get talked about in a very positive way!!

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